Bowing out

'We had a few drinks...': Barbarian spirit still alive, but Jennings praises professional balance

The openside is enjoying his last week as a professional, but not too much.

‘I’M LIKE A Cheshire cat up here, to be honest.’

Shane Jennings after the match Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Shane Jennings is enjoying his final week as a professional rugby player. It’s not just that his last match in Ireland saw him captain a team to victory in Thomond Park, it’s that he did it with a star-studded, hard-rucking and… good to firm-partying squad of Barbarians.

Traditionally, the Baa-Baas carry a reputation that is the antithesis of professionalism because, well, they are a perfect relic of the amateur age.

Matches, the legend goes, were merely excuses for drinking sessions with an international flavour. While on the field, the individual talents were given free rein and they duly cut loose.

In the professional era, the make-up of the squad and deeply ingrained player habits make it almost impossible to revive the amateur folklore – not without damaging your pride, reputation and quite possible bones in the process anyway – but they can meet it halfway.

Shane Jennings Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“I probably let myself down a bit as in not being too much fun,” Jennings said after last night’s win over an Ireland XV, “because I know that after a few drinks I’m not the best the next day.

“We had a few drinks on Monday. Which was great fun and we all gave it a bit of a lick.

“Tuesday we had a few drinks, but not too many. Some went out, but they backed it up. Whereas if I did that I’d have been in a bit of trouble. I’ll certainly try to make up tonight for what I didn’t do on Tuesday.

“That’s part of it. That’s what you saw tonight.”

Jennings went on to credit a fellow openside George Smith, who played a telling role as a replacement in Limerick, for personifying what the Barbarians rugby mean in the modern rugby landscape: players from all corners of the world coming together to bond – and yes, drink a bit – with the aim of impressing as a coherent unit on the field.

Paddy Jackson and Chris Henry tackle George Smith Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“A guy like George, he’s around the place [all week], probably the second most capped Baa-Baa in the squad and people are looking up to him. I’m looking up to him.

“He plays like that after completely accepting what it is to be a Baa-Baa and going out socialising and making sure he does the jersey proud. It’s unbelievable to watch and be a part of. He really gave us a lift when he came on. We had a lot of guys like that.”

The work and the effort that goes in once the whistle blows is the other side of the coin.

The Barbarians are a touch more pragmatic these days than the purists would like, rarely more so than Jennings’ decision to point for an easy penalty to stretch their lead over Joe Schmidt’s side to eight points.

“The only reason I was saying it was because we were all blowing. Some people were saying: ‘run it, run it, run it!’ Others were saying, ‘kick it, kick it, kick it!’

Jimmy [Gopperth] just said, here let’s have a shot. So good call, Jimmy.”

Good call indeed. The penalty made amends for the outgoing Leinster man’s earlier missed conversion. Ireland’s two tries to the tourists’ one in the final 18 minutes wasn’t enough to stop another defeat to the Club, a loss that was chiefly born out of some ferocious breakdown efforts from Jennings and his team-mates.

Shane Jennings leads out the team Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s such a prestigious club to be a part of and what you saw tonight was that people wanted to play for the club and play for the team.

“We tried to play in the spirit of the Baa-Baas and give it a go. But we were also told, you know, ‘there’s an opportunity to win a game.’ We didn’t want to give Ireland an opportunity to beat us.

“It was physical, it was tough and you saw the quality of some of the players. [So] we can hit up ball like that, we resourced the ruck well at times and it allowed us to build a bit of phase[play] as well.”

There was so little preparation, it just shows the quality of the players. Everyone bought into the attitude of it. We enjoyed our company, we got to know each other and fellas fronted up.

“And when the subs came on, they fronted up. It’s pretty infectious when you’re in a group of players like that. Very enjoyable.

“Robbie [Deans has] said it all week, ‘you have to try to represent the badge properly.’

“I think we did that tonight. We’ll go and enjoy tonight and we’ll try and represent it properly in London as well.”

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